MADDU KHANNA, SUDHIR ASTHANA, RITU POONIA & MRS.CYNTHIA GREENE – LEFT US IN 2009
By AJ Singh (from Long Island NYC)
I thought I will let you know the sad passing away of the above all associated with the Gnats, as, even though many in the GNAT fraternity would know about their demise, some may not, and it would be like a legacy to mention about the deceased and pay respect to them as the year ends and a new one begins. You may like to post this information on the Gnat web site.
Maddu (MD Khanna), as I understand, died in his sleep of a heart attack in June. I got associated with Maddu when posted to the Winged Arrows under then Wingco Johnny Greene in August 1970. Maddu as a senior pilot and friend guided me to be a good officer and fighter pilot. I have flown numerous sorties as his No. 2 as ‘Pink 2’. We had a good rapport and he was confident that he could take on another pair in combat confidently knowing that I was not a liability. We took part in the 1971 war from Amritsar as Greene’s boys. Maddu was still in the squadron when I left for FIS in December 1974. He was a good leader and in his Hyderabadi ways a joshy character. The negative angle of attack his moustache took when he got up from sleep in the morning was the only time he looked like a duck out of water. He got married to his equally joshy or more bubbly wife Shyamola because of him impersonating me at Srinagar taking my name not in vain, but in being able to successfully court her and finally win her hand. They have a boy and a girl, both married, and Shyamola gave me to understand recently that she is a grandmother. I very much wanted to have a drink with Maddu last October at Hyderabad, when I had made some grandiose plans to take a Deccan tour to meet my course mates from NDA and friends from the Air Force. It was not to be as I suffered an early injury due to a fall in the bathroom on my visit to India from the US. I will miss him. May His soul Rest in Peace.
Sudhir Asthana, my 34 NDA and 103 Pilots course, passed away at Delhi in early November fighting cancer all the way and making life comfortable for others in his joking way. He started his AF career as a Gnat Pilot in the Flying Bullets (Eighteen) and took part in the 1971 war from Amritsar when on attachment to the Winged Arrows. He was Air Attache here in the US when another course mate, close friend and squadron mate of mine and another Gnat Pilot Amritpal Singh Sidhu, who later died in an government of Chattisgarh helicopter in July 2006, visited the US. Sudhir is survived by his wife Jaya and daughter Ruchira. May Sudhir’s soul rest in Peace.
Mrs. Rita Poonia (Ritu to those who knew the family close), one of the bravest persons known to me who accepted the outcome of terminal cancer, passed away peacefully on December 09 at Sydney, Australia, holding the hands of her loved ones, husband Raj Kumar Poonia (another course mate, squadron mate flying Gnats/Ajeets in TWO twice, unit mate in Iraq and AFA), daughters Shewta and Shikha, and son in law Anuraag. I spoke to her in early November 2009 when she visited India to bid farewell to her relatives around the time Sudhir Asthana died. She sounded so calm and positive when I on this end knew perhaps I was speaking to her for the last time. When she was being taken by ambulance to the hospital for the last time, she calmed the ambulance paramedics saying that she is dying and that there is no need to rush concerned that her daughter Shikha was travelling with her. She told them not to attempt any form of resuscitation. They, as Raju told me, switched off the sirens and did not make a dash. Even at the emergency room where she passed away she personally told the doctors to let her sleep peacefully and not to do anything. Brave woman. She was the rock of the family handling this genius of character with many ideas, Poonia. May Her soul rest in Peace.
Mrs. Cynthia Greene, passed away at INHS Ashwini on December 15, 2009 after bravely battling a couple of life threatening ailments for a few years. Air Marshal Greene, who had taken very good care of her at home, called me that Tuesday night to inform me of the sad news calmly but choking with emotion. Mrs. Greene was laid to her rest on that Friday December 18. Till the last moment she was a fighter, and as Sanady said fully aware of her surroundings. She with then WingCo Greene were like parents to us in TWO to 10 ex NDA course mates who landed up in the squadron all at one time in August 1970 to fly Gnats. During our fledgling years during which we took part in the 1971 war from Amritsar and later she was a source of support for us and for the squadron wives. She replaced my lost rosary with one that belonged to her late daughter to keep me safe during the war. It is Mrs.Greene who told us the line “Gentlemen fly Hunters, Pilots fly Gnats.”as told to her, when in England, by Folland people comparing Gnats with Hunters. I will always enjoy with a smile remembering her calling me “AJ, you blooming rascal.” A great Lady. May Her soul rest in Peace.
I take this opportunity to wish the Gnat Fraternity a Peaceful and Healthy New Year and to those still in the flying business ‘Happy Landings’.